Thursday, September 30, 2004

Pre-Dawn Before the Arch

It is first light, and Mary Ann and I have driven down to the Mississippi River from the Illinois side. A little paved road follows the train tracks along the riverside, and just between the Casino Queen and the grain elevator is a off-limits dirt road that crosses the tracks, goes over the levee and heads down the river shore towards the bridge. Last night at sunset, we found this place. She sets up her tripod and has a marvelous view of the St. Louis Arch, the city buildings behind it, fronted by the river traffic. Sunrise or sunset it is a very impressive view.

Now if I didn't flinch every time a security vehicle drives by. There is a no-trespassing sign, but in very small print. "Yes, officer, It's my fault we're here. Mary Ann is a photographer and thus not responsible for her actions."

I really need to lighten up. Speaking of which, the glass-tower skyscrapers and the arch itself are beginning to show reflections of the rosy dawn sky. It's quite pretty. No doubt a representative picture will sooner or later appear on her web site. http://MaryAnnMelton.com Check it out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Generator Woes

One of the joys of RV'ing is that you are heading off across country, totally dependent on technology. Sometimes old, worn, technology. One of our traditional problems occurred today, the generator failed.

We have a gasoline powered Onan generator belowdecks that provides 110 volts for everything from the air conditioner to the cell phone chargers. On several previous trips it has failed on us, and we have learned to make do with the inverter system.

On one trip, it burned out it's electronics and they had to be rebuilt. On another, it was just a matter of tuning the system for the correct altitude. Last time it was as simple as the circuit breakers.

Tuesday morning, when we drove off (at 10:15 am), I had the generator running to provide air conditioning using the two roof units, rather than try to make do with the weak car-style unit in the dash. For five hours it worked perfectly. But then, I shut it down when we stopped to get gas. As we drove off, it wouldn't start. The generator motor won't turn over.

Mechanical problems are often beyond my capabilities, so no immediate fix is in the works. I'll tinker, and if something magic happens, it will come back up. Otherwise, we'll try to find an Onan repair place somewhere down the road when we don't have a deadline.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Getting Off

Getting started on a new trip is one of the hardest things in my life. It is the most drawn out, stressful thing I can do to myself. In the three-plus decades I've been married (I lose track of the decimals) the most severe arguments we have had have all happened in the last few hours before hitting the road.

So I've learned to expect the delays. I've learned to sit patiently for hours as my wife tells me, "We're almost done." I've learned that every projected deadline is false.

For example. Archon, the science fiction convention I am going to attend in the St. Louis area, begins on Thursday. We had planned to leave much earlier and take a pleasant and scenic route through Colorado and visit a few days in Yellowstone before heading back east. Quickly, Yellowstone dropped off the agenda. Then a few days later, Colorado was too far. But instead we were going to visit a Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, so Mary Ann could take a few pictures. We would leave on Thursday, a week before the Con, and take our time getting there.

By the time Thursday arrived, Mary Ann was hoping to get off on Saturday, or by Sunday at the earliest. By Friday, Monday morning was the firm deadline. Sunday, it was Monday afternoon. Monday morning, she hoped to be gone by 8 PM.

At 9 o'clock, when she returned from many important errands, we both knew that we wouldn't be leaving Monday.

So this morning, I was awake and dressed in the early dawn light, but I just couldn't feel the urgency to leave immediately. I knew that would never happen.

It also helped to know that I have driven to St. Louis in one day several years ago. (The log of that weekend trip, 900 miles there and another 900 back over a two-day marathon is recorded in one of my archived blogs.) So even though driving with the RV is best done in 300 mile per day sessions, I have this confidence that even with more delays, I could still make it before I'm supposed to be at my scheduled events.

Mary Ann has claimed that she's finished packing three times now, and all that she lacks is her shower. So who knows. We may leave today after all.

But I wouldn't bet money on it.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Preparing to Hit the Road Again

Archon in the St. Louis area is a science fiction con that I regularly attend, and it is only a few days away. This will be the first port of call on a six week trip that will cover a number of states and hopefully swing by Phoenix for the World Fantasy Convention. Today I've got to clean up the RV and start packing.

Getting started on one of these trips is horrible, but once I'm on the road, it can be a very soul-pleasing time. Cruising the highways, whether in the comfort of the RV or in my Jeep, I can enjoy the contryside at the same time as I am plotting events in the far future, in alternate dimensions, or in a stretch-reality version to here and now. Most of the last half-dozen novels I have written have been inspired in theme and location by what I have seen outside the windshield.

But first I have to get gone.

Update the Blog. [check]
Finish short story [todo]
Clean RV [todo]
Pack clothes [todo]
Configure home computer for unattended operation [todo]
Send2market: two short stories and two novels [todo]
File correspondence littering my desk [todo]
Get much-delayed income tax in the mail [todo]
Scream a lot [todo]

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Back to Normal

My iBook returned on Thursday, and I would have had it by Wednesday if I hadn't gone for lunch. This new DHL shipper Apple is using has had to learn where I live and how to make deliveries here.

It's been a few days of adjustments on my main website http://HenryMelton.com/ . The ISP I've had for years IOCOM has been bought out by Prismnet, and they have been changing the servers around. For the past two weeks, my web logs haven't been archiving correctly. It took a few script changes that I have just completed.

Of course, I must confess that I caught the first showing of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow at the local theater. It wasn't up to Star Wars (the original), but it was a lot of fun. I have to take my wife to see it. She is a photographer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Living with VNC

Well, it's been a couple of days now that I've been running my backup Mac using VNC to the Sony's screen. For most everything, it works rather well. Okay, it's a bit choppy, with screen updates that happen slower than I would like, but I find myself forgetting that I am running remotely. I even downloaded and ran a news video while web browsing. The frame rate was bad, but the point was that everything was running sufficently transparently that I tried it without thinking.

And why was I web browsing throught VNC to a Mac when there is a perfectly respectable Mozilla browser here on the windows laptop? Deep down, I don't trust Windows on the Internet. Mail on Windows is strictly forbidden in this household. Everything runs behind multiple firewalls. Everything runs the current patches.

VNC glitches? Sometimes a false click is generated. I don't know how or why. The corners which trigger expose are more sensitive than they should be. I would also prefer the native Mac cursor rather than the VNC dot.

But, I can live with it. For now.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

iBook died again

A few posts back I talked about my backup systems. They certainly make today a happier day. You see, of all the computer's I have purchased, the iBook I got about two years ago has been the most ... entertaining. As probably everyone knows, there was a period where the design was, er, less than perfect.

I had one of the first of the white, chicklet, style iBooks, the 500 mHz version. In fact, I bought two of them. One for me and one for my daughter Debra. After a relatively short time, the 10 GB hard disk was just too small for what I was doing, and Debra's machine was suffering. All of Debra's computers suffer. She loves them to death. I moved up to the new iBook with 30GB of storage while she used my old one for a few months. Eventually, she graduated to a 12" Powerbook.

And thus began the tradition of having backup hardware.

That iBook-500 has been the refuge when other machines have been making their visits to the repair shop, and when it isn't in someone's hands, it has been the Retrospect Backup Server machine.

I only wish the iBook-800 had been as reliable. I purchased it at the local Fryes store, and when I had to decide between Apple's service and Fryes, I was beguiled by their offer of a replacement machine if necessary.

After a few months, it died. I was on the road, somewhere east of the Mississippi, if I recall. It was only a few hundred miles out of my way, but I swung back through Austin to put it in for repair and get a replacement machine. That replacement machine was hard to get, and it took seven weeks to get my machine back. I was used to Applecare's response time of just a few days.

A few months after that, it died again. It was the same kind of problem. Video, which frequently locked up the machine. I put back into Fryes. I didn't even try to get the replacement machine, since I had the old reliable iBook-500. This time it was two full months to be repaired.

When the one-year factory warrantly was due to expire, I paid the money and bough the Applecare service for an additional two years. A month or so after that, Apple, recognizing that this design was a lemon, authorized free service on it. So I was covered three ways. Fryes warranty, Applecare, and the free bonus coverage.

And now, on close to it's second anniversary, The iBook-800 has died again -- with the same problem. This time I took it to the Apple Store. Right now I am using the iBook500 again, sort of.

Rather than unplug the iBook500 from the DVD burners and shut down the backup software, I borrowed the Sony Vaio my wife bought for some of her Windows-only software. Using VNC, I am running my Mac environment on the Sony environment. The Sony feels like a cast iron battleship, but no one was using it. It's battery life isn't as good as the mac's either, but tethered to its power cord, it does a fair job.

I'll be glad to get my iBook800 back. Soon. Please.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Adding Old Blog Posts

I've written blog-like web messages for years. They exist in various archives, under various software. Honestly, this Blogger environment is the best I have used, and it also gives be the opportunity to consolidate the old text under one access point.

So for a while, I will be rummaging through my archives and putting the old messages into this system. I would love to put them under the correct dates, but the software apparently only allows messages dated back to 1999. That will have to make do. If the date is important, I'll just have to put it into the body of the message.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

My Backups

I'm a writer. I hate losing text! So, I have several methods all running concurrently.

(1) I run Retrospect to DVD on an old Mac which backups five Macs and one Windows laptop. It runs daily.

(2) I use Deja Vu to backup my home account on my laptop to my iPod on demand. Usually I do this daily to weekly depending on my current project.

(3) I make snapshot CD images of my working directory when preparing for a trip. I give these to my parents who live 500 miles away.

(4) I have written a Perl script that runs hourly under cron. It visits my working directories and makes a 50-60 MB copy of those files which are Most Recently Touched. This MRT archive is then mirrored, using psync (installed by Deja Vu) onto my .Mac partition. The OS then mirrors this archive to the Apple Servers, and then back to the home machine running Retrospect. So even on the road, my home Retrospect backups are picking up any changes I make.

So at any given time, my current project will be mirrored over several computers, off-site on Apple's servers, manually burned to CDROM, backed up to DVD by Retrospect, and copied to my iPod.

The interesting thing is that I don't feel that this is at all excessive.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Kicking around New England

Rather than race to the airport and wing back home, Mary Ann and I spent the day in the rent car driving around the area. I think Vermont is particularly nice. With the hills and long river valleys -- added to the 50 mph speed limit, it is a pleasant place. If it weren't for the rain heading in from all directions, we would probably stay in New England for several more days, but as it is, if the airline co-operates, we will head home tomorrow.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Monday at Worldcon

The last day of Worldcon. As usual, it's a shorter day as people head home.

I popped in on the Burnout session, and then realized it was about burnout for the con organizers, rather than for writers, which is what I had automatically expected. But, burnout is burnout and I listened in for about fifteen minutes before moving over the catch the last of the About Writer Scams. That was full of the usual cautions and for the second time this con I heard the factoid that it is more than twice as easy for a random teenage male to get a job in professional sports as it is for the same guy to sell a novel. I wonder if that is true. The session detailed a number of ways that people prey on the hopes and dreams of people who want to sell their writing. In general, the only way is to write a better book.

Why I Write YA: This is the panel I had to record. Beth Hilgartner, Rebecca Moesta, Tamora Pierce, E. Rose Sabin and Hilari Bell talked about what they write and why. Afterward, I tried to pick a few brains on the process of making a sale to that market and how to get an appropriate agent.

Transcendental Adventures: The panelists, mainly Tor Editors, had an interesting time trying to figure out what the title meant, but they got into some serious speculation about the future and the past and why we all are the way we are. I recorded it tool. Why not? The con was coming to a close and I still had battery life.

Flash: I had time for one last panel and I love my old comic books. It was nice to hear what was going on currently and to listen to the background of the Crisis.

I took one last pass through the Dealer Room and saw, sadly, Forrest J Ackerman being wheeled around in a wheelchair. He bought my first story, so many years ago.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Sunday at Worldcon

I started the day at the Art of Titles panel. With Terry Pratchett and Gordon Van Gelder on it, it had to be good. There were lots of anecdotes and not a little bit of handwaving about what made a good title. Of course I've never been good at titles, but with the general consensus that editors had to change the titles of about 25% of all the works they used, I didn't feel all that bad about my track record. It was interesting about the differences between short fiction titles and novel titles, though. Short fiction titles could be long and complex if necessary. Book titles had to be read at a distance on the bookshelf, so the preference was for short ones that looked esthetically pleasing. I recorded the panel.

DOA: Books that died despite everything: Editors confess to bad marketing, bad cover art, bad timing, and just plain bad luck. Recorded for future worry.

Baen Traveling Slide Show: Of course now it's done on Powerpoint, but Toni Weisskopf kept up an energetic presentation. I am going to be paying more attention to this publishing house. I recorded about 15 minutes of it, but I didn't have a chair, and so left early.

And dropped into the Stories I'm Too Scared to Write panel. Joe Haldeman had an interesting story of writing a too-perfect blueprint for extortion that a reader turned into fact. Soon the topic shifted over to the personal demons that the writers avoided, or that turned up in their writings in spite of themselves. I stopped recording it all because the battery level on my iPod wasn't holding up. Thus far I had recorded two hours today, and I had a lot more to go.

The Bantam/Spectra Presentation: I only stayed for a few minutes. Nice people, but the wrong market for me.

I started a panel on Myth and Fiction, but it was a bit too dry for me, although I did get a very detailed overview of Oedipus.

Finally, it was time for the Tor Presentation. A lot of the editors I had know for years were there (this does not imply that they know me) and they had a lovely time with a very fast-paced slideshow, covering many many books. About half-way through my battery ran out, but I was very pleased to see a number of YA titles. Maybe they won't buy mine, but I have a little hope at least.

I dropped by the SFWA suite again, but other than a nice bit of cheese on crackers, and a really lovely view across the river to the MIT campus, there was nothing much going on, so I headed on back to the hotel. I was tired, and my iPod had recorded over three hours of audio. Now I had to process it and do my Blog.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Saturday at Worldcon

The Ace/Roc Presentation: Ace Books and Roc Books are a publishing enerprise with one head and two bodies, if I understand it correctly. The same editors run both, but there are different art departments, marketing, etc. It is a very appealing organization and I would love to publish my books with them, but the last four books I've written are YA and they don't do YA. 'tis a pity. I recorded about 30 minutes of this on my iPod as well.

The Del Rey Presentation started at noon, but I really couldn't get a seat, so I just listened in for a few minutes and then left.

Is It Fair?: This panel gave me another shot at listening to Shelia Williams. It was mostly about why editors choose the stories they do, and it was very interesting. I should have recorded it, but I didn't. This was a shining example of what a panel could be, with a good moderator. Carl Frederick kept his three star editors and one writer on their toes and kept the whole panel focused and on topic. When Shelia brought up the idea that most short story writers underpopulate their fiction, he jumped right in with the right blend of interest and insight that let the editors open up and talk about the issue.

The Warner/Aspect Presentation: I recorded fifteen minutes of this one, hoarding my battery life, once I determined that here was another publisher that wasn't doing YA books.

I hopped over to the short 30 minute appreciation of Julius Schwartz, an important figure in comic books and the world of fandom. In honesty, I was getting a little burned out racing around for days, stalking the editors and analyzing the publishing world. I decided to have a little fun. So ...

The Smallville Panel: This was fun, and I even recorded it. Like me, the panelists were long time Superman fans who brought decades of back history into the viewing of the show. It looks like there is some interesting future to the series.

The Eos Presentation: I recorded a few minutes of it. But again, it was a nice publishing house that wasn't doing the kind of books I write.

So that was all the panels I felt like attending for the day. However, there was one other way to stalk editors. Supposedly people are able to network by attending parties. Not me. I have a hard time hearing people in crowded rooms. But at least I had to try.

I am a member of the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. (Note how the initials don't match the title. Lots of back history there.) At these Worldcon's the SFWA maintains a suite where writers can hang out. However, they don't publicise the room number. Members have to wander the halls and flag down people they know to ask for the secret arcaine number. I cheated. SFWA has started the practice of having a table in the dealer room to advertise the organization and to interest people in the SFWA Bulletin magazine. Shelia Finch was holding down a chair and I asked her.

So, armed with the room number, I found the SFWA suite and visited the place. No editors, but still, being able to sit down and listen to Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison chat wasn't a bad thing. Of course, I didn't say anything. I'm terminally shy. I got my little secret sticker on my name badge that told the doorman I was allowed in the place, and then left after a while.

People were getting ready for the Hugo Awards ceremony, but I was too tired to consider staying. I still had that half mile hike back to the hotel. But in all, it was a good day.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Friday at Worldcon

I like the discussion panels at SF cons. Generally, I find a nice seat in the back of the room (so I can sneak out if the panel turns into a boring monologue), and listen to the collective wisdom of the ages.

Building the Buzz: There were examples, both from a publisher's perspective and a writer's perspective. The wisdom? Blog regularly. So I am.

DAW Presentation: All the major publishers give a 1.5 to 2 hour presentation about their upcoming books. These are heavily attended because the publishers give away free books. I came because I wanted to see and listen to the editors. That's what this con is all about for me. Stalking editors. It's a shame I'm so timid I have a hard time actually saying hello to them.

I skipped out early and went to --
The Future of Short Fiction (in the Magazines): This is another case of stalkling editors, only this time magazine editors. I'm actually on a wave and smile basis with many of them. I was most interested in listening to Shelia Williams, who has recently been promoted to the top position at Asimov's. I had talked to her many times at other cons, but I hadn't been able to get a sense of her likes and dislikes.

A Worldcon Orientation for SF Professionals: This was probably a waste of time for me. I already knew that writers were lower in the pecking order than con organizers, unless you were one of the stars. It also illustrated that large egos were alive and well in the fannish world.

All About Agents: I don't have one. I need one. Of course I attended this one. I even recorded it into my iPod. After the con I intend to go back over it and take better notes.

As the afternoon progressed, the good panels thinned out and I had time to eat and to visit the Dealer's Room. For those who are unfamiliar with cons, the Dealer's Room at this con is a large convention floor with aisles of tables, where everything from comic books to artwork to prop zap guns can be purchased. Most of the tables had books, as it should be. As usual, I didn't buy anything. Even at the best cons, I have a hard time shelling out the cash.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Worldcon Boston

The World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Boston this year. It was a good reason to get out of town. We flew this time, rather than taking the RV, partially because the parking expenses in Boston would be prohibitive. Mary Ann had collected some free airline tickets and so we packed our bags and well before dawn, headed for the airport.

You have to understand that Mary Ann likes to wait until the last minute. I like to get there very early. I thought we were cutting it close when we left. The hiss-hiss-hiss noise after we hit a broken bottle on the road was a downer. Sure enough, a hundred yards later, she had to stop with the flat tire. I haven't changed a flat in years, and I had never used the spare on the Surburban. I didn't even know where the jack was hiding.

Still, it was a twenty-minute change, and we were back on the road. I was dripping with sweat, panting like a dog, and holding out my hands to keep from touching anything with them. They were black with dirt and oil from the exercise. We caught the plane with a few minutes to spare -- I even managed to get my hands washed before we took off.

It was a easy flight -- Austin to Nashville to Baltimore to Providence RI. We didn't have to change planes, but I was painfully reminded just how uncomfortable airline seats were. Once on the ground we caught a ride over to the train station and rode on into Boston. There was little to do but check into the hotel and locate the convention registration. By the end of the day, I was dead tired. Cars and planes, and taxi's and trains and subways, plus a good bit of walking. I was sorry that I couldn't have fitted a boat ride into the mix.